Understanding the Mental Healthcare Regulatory Environment

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Appreciating the Rules

[By Carol Miller; RN, MBA]

Carol S. MillerLocal counties and municipalities are the primary providers of state mental healthcare for patients who lack private insurance coverage for such care.

Both children and adults may be eligible to receive assistance.

These counties provide a wide range of psychiatric and counseling services to the residents in their community as well as other types of assistance such as:

  • treatment services related to substance abuse;
  • housing;
  • employment services;
  • information and education service;
  • referrals;
  • consultative services to schools, courts and other agencies;
  • after-care services; and other related activities.


Rules and Regulations

Accordingly, regulations from federal, state, and county governments have an impact on the day-to-day operations, procedures and processes of a county mental health center. Traditionally, there are three main types of regulations.

Federal Regulations — The United States healthcare system is guided by programs such as those established under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (in the case of county mental health programs, Medicaid is especially important), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and others.

State Regulations — These include general legislative guidelines, state management of benefits and reimbursement of the Medicaid program, and state allocations of budgets, which impact the centers’ operations.

County Regulations — Each county defines its own County Mental Health Program and decides which services will be provided or excluded.


County facilities generally include outpatient clinics, county mental health programs, short-term psychiatric facilities, day-care centers, de-toxification centers, residential rehabilitation centers for substance abuse, long-term care psychiatric facilities, and Veterans Affairs (VA) psychiatric centers. The county centers may be co-located with other county services such as social services, occupational rehabilitation services, information technology services, human resources, maintenance services, and others or may be independently located.


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2 Responses

  1. The Primary Care “Mentalists”

    Did you know that a growing number of primary care physicians say they are handling a greater load of patients in need of mental health care?

    A new report from the Center for American Progress, a public policy and advocacy organization, shows that more than a third of patients who receive treatment for mental health disorders rely solely on primary care physicians.


    Is demand high or supply too low?



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